Much ink has been spilled over the effects of the COIVD-19 pandemic on distilleries sales and production lines. However, spirits producers were also affected on a second front; distillery tours are now on hold for obvious reasons. The hiatus is particularly acute in the whiskey industry, where a boom in appreciation coupled with efforts like the ‘Bourbon Trail’ elevated the visits into quasi-religious pilgrimage.
Still, there is some hope for the faithful. The virtual distillery tour is on the rise.
Some distilleries, like Four Roses, added virtual visits as a direct result of the novel coronavirus outbreak.
“One of the things we’ve noticed since we completed our expanded distillery last year is the personal connection that visitors have to the brand. It’s just a privilege to have a fan base that’s so supportive,” explained Four Roses COO Ryan Ashley. “When we made the decision to close all operations about two weeks ago we wanted a way to stay connected with our customers. We added the Virtual Distillery Tour in an effort to provide customers a first hand look at what goes on at the distillery.”
Other distilleries simply benefited form some fortuitous timing. After reporting over 300,000 visitors in 2019, Buffalo Trace recognized the demand for a behind-the-curtain peek. Their virtual tour, a collaboration with NYC based digital creative agency Bajibot, launched just in time— January 24, 2020.
“Virtual visitors can take a tour with the Distillery’s legendary tour guide Freddie Johnson, or choose to explore on their own,” according to a statement from BuffTrace. “Users can even travel back in time and explore the Distillery as it appeared throughout history, including in 1773, 1857 and during Prohibition.”
Likewise, Jack Daniels spent heavy on virtual tours over the last five years, employing multiple rising technologies to create several different experience. In 2019, they rolled out their own AR app. Designed by San Francisco-based startup, Tactic, the mobile experience provides an artistic journey through their facilities.
Other spirits enthusiast are using Google’s Voyager/Street Views applications to visit their favorite spirits makers. Over the past few years, the Merlins of Mountain View really built out their maps function, first integrating navigable photographic “street views” and then adding the interiors of select buildings, including many distilleries.
The Google option sometimes include supplemental information, but often feature little more than a virtual walkabout. On an information front, the Street View option does not compare to the “tours” created by distilleries with the help of agencies and marketing departments.
All the same, Google’s work still provides a nice (virtual) walkabout. We suggest taking a look at the Talisker tour.
The strategy appears to be working. Distillery representatives and web-watches both told Neat Pour that traffic to virtual tours on brand sites as well as multimedia outlets like YouTube are showing marked increases in traffic.
Alas, at the conclusion (or during) a virtual tour, one must still turn to your home liquor cabinet for sustenance. And, the human element is definitely missing, but know that as much as guests long to return to distilleries, distillers long to have their guest back.
“Of course, we can’t wait to welcome customers in person when the time is right,” Ashley added.